Hosea: Repentance to Bring Blessing / Paul: God’s Sovereign Choice: July 25th 2021

Hosea 11:12-14:9

God complained through Hosea that Judah was unruly against God and they must return to him. They should maintain love and justice and always wait for God (Hosea 12:6).  

Israel would not be saved by its wealth, particularly when this had been obtained through dishonest means. God would repay his people for their contempt. They would disappear like the morning mist because of their idol worship and human sacrifice.

When God fed the people, they were initially satisfied but then became proud and forgot God (Hosea 13:6). This is easy for us to do. We can cry out to God when we need a job or a house but once we have got them, we think that we earned them. We do not give thanks to God and we can forget him in our prosperity. We have to remain humble and give praise and thanks at all times.

God had given them a king when they had asked for one, even though the request made him angry. The kings proved themselves repeatedly to be disasters and so God took them away in his wrath.

Israel must bear its guilt. It would be plundered and its people would fall by the sword. The Israelites would once again have to live in tents in exile, as they had in the desert during their exodus.

God called on Israel to repent. He would then heal their waywardness and freely love them (Hosea 14:4). God would send the Messiah to break the hold of sickness and death over the human race (Hosea 13:14). Israel was the unwise baby who couldn’t even find its way out of the womb (Hosea 13:13). Its dangerous delay in choosing to be born into God’s arms risked death. We were all destined to be rescued by the wisest child in history delivered by a sinless, virgin mother.   

They would realise that rebellion never triumphs against God. Rebels stumble and fall. God’s ways are right and wise; righteous people walk in them (Hosea 14:9). When Jesus Christ returns to earth, Israel will blossom like a lily as finally its people are converted. Its “splendour will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). As the Messianic Jews preach to the globe, they will flourish, they will receive worldwide fame and admiration and people will dwell in their shade (Hosea 14:7).  

Romans 9:1-21

Paul had great sorrow in his heart for the Jews. They had been adopted as sons. They were chosen as God’s holy people. He had nurtured and fed them. God had made covenants with their Patriarchs and from them had come Jesus. Despite all these blessings, they had persistently rebelled against God. Paul was prepared to go to hell himself, to be cut off from God, if it would mean that all his people would be saved. We can feel this pain about our own family, friends and acquaintances. Why can’t they understand the gospel? Why don’t they repent and ask Jesus into their lives? Why do they keep worshipping worthless idols and ignoring God’s loving voice, calling them back to him?

However, if the Israelites had not rebelled, God would not have sent Jesus to save us, and his salvation has extended to all the world, not just the Jews. Everything is according to God’s plan and he brings good out of any bad situation. He has mercy on who he wants to have mercy and, in order to push his plan of salvation forward, he hardened the hearts of those people he wanted to harden (Rom.9:18).

God designed us the way we are as part of his plan. He has an individual mission for each of us. He has given us all sufficient grace to respond to his call and will keep putting people and situations in our path to prompt our conversion even if ultimately this has to be suffering, temptation, sin, agonising illness or imminent death. We should not have the disrespect to ask him why he made us so. He is the potter and we are his clay. With the help of his Holy Spirit, we can become his masterpiece.

Psalm 89:9-13

God founded the world and all that is in it (Ps.89:11). He rules over the surging sea (Ps.89:9).

We exalt his strength and power. He can still the crashing waves in all of our lives and scatter our enemies.

We should sing for joy at his name.

Hosea: On Israel being Unrepentant / Paul: Struggling with Sin: 22nd July 2021

Hosea 6:1-7:16

Even though God may sometimes tear us to pieces spiritually, he always has plans to heal and rebuild us better and stronger on the third day, so we may live in his presence. We can miraculously recover when God shows his power as the dry bones did in Ezekiel 37.

We must acknowledge the Lord because he will surely appear as reliably as the arrival of the different seasons.

The Israelites love for God was always temporary and would evaporate ‘like the early dew’ (Hosea 6:4). Therefore, God unleased his spokespeople on them – the prophets – who cut them into pieces and killed them ‘with the words of my mouth’. God’s judgement ‘flashed like lightning upon you’ (Hosea 6:5).

God always wants mercy, not sacrifice. He wants to be acknowledged.

The Israelites had broken their covenant with God. Their cities were filled with wicked men. Even bands of priests committed murders. Israel had defiled and prostituted itself. Judah was not much better and would be dealt with in time (Hosea 6:11).

God remembered all their evil deeds. Whenever he wanted to restore the Israelite’s fortunes and heal them, the sins of Ephraim were exposed – ‘as the largest and most influential of all the northern 10 tribes, Ephraim’s name was often used as representative of the northern kingdom (Israel)’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1127) – and the crimes of Samaria (the capital city of Israel) were revealed (Hoses 7:1). This shows the major problem the human race has with sin. It is such a massive barrier to our relationship with God that it would take the monumental death of the son of God to fix this issue for ever.

The kings of Israel kept being assassinated by their treacherous subjects but even when faced with death, the idol-worshipping kings did not call on God. Jesus would also be plotted against and killed but he always called on his Father.

The Israelites in their arrogance did not return to the Lord or search for him (Hosea 7:10). They were easily deceived, senseless and fickle calling to Egypt for help one day and Assyria the next.

It is strange that doves are described in Hosea 7:11 as ‘easily deceived and senseless’, yet the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism (Matt.3:16). Jesus described doves as having an ‘innocent’ character (Matt. 10:16).

Hosea prophesied that God would rain destruction on his people because of their rebellion, lies, insolent words and evil plots against him. They had strayed away from God when all he wanted to do was redeem them. Their leaders would fall and other countries would ridicule them.

Romans 7:7-25

Paul stated that he would not have known what sin was except through the law (Romans 7:7).  However, in modern times, a country’s written laws often have to play catch-up with people’s sins. Many people defend themselves in court with ‘legal loopholes’, that have to be blocked off by additional legislation. The conscience of a person who has been made righteous with God, tells them which acts are sins because we have God’s law written on our hearts. God’s law is ‘holy, righteous and good’ (Rom.7:12).

We can take some solace from the fact that even Saint Paul struggled with temptation but he was probably under severe demonic attack, ‘for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Rom.7:15). Even after we are baptized and all our sins are wiped out, human beings still have a wounded nature and a residual tendency to sin that theologians term ‘concupiscence’. People want to sin to assert their self-will.

God give us sufficient grace to resist all sin but we still have to engage our willpower to overcome our tendency to commit sin. I find that after praying in tongues as much as possible, the Holy Spirit removes my desire to sin, which makes life a lot less stressful. I couldn’t free myself from ingrained habitual sin, I had to hand my problems over to the Holy Spirit and he sorted me out.

If we do give into sin, we have a remedy in that we can confess to God, receive a hug of forgiveness and carry on joyfully with life restored in his love. As Christians, our sins start to niggle and bother us until we repent and make amends. We love God’s law and can only be at peace when our lives are in obeyance to it. Who can rescue us from our sinful bodies of death? (Rom.7:24).

Thanks be to God for sending us a redeemer to rescue us – Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.7:25).

Psalm 88:9b-18

The psalmist was extremely depressed when he wrote this and despaired that ‘darkness is my closest friend’ (Ps.88:18). Even when we lose companions and loved ones we are never alone. We now know that Jesus Christ is our closest friend and in him, there is no darkness. He is the light of the world.

The people living in darkness has seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matt.4:16).

‘The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Ps.27:1).

Every day, let us spread out our hands to God and call on him (Ps.88:9).

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

Hosea Reconciled with his Adulterous Wife / Paul: Slaves to Righteousness: July 21st 2021

Hosea 3:1-5:15

God told Hosea to become reconciled with his wife. She was an adulterous prostitute loved by another man. Hosea was instructed to ‘love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes’ (Hosea 3:1). The Israelites had acted as prostitutes chasing after demonic deities. God would eventually pay the price to redeem both them and us, by Jesus dying on the cross. By the way, the sacred raisin cakes do sound delicious. We have Eccles cakes in this country, which may be a similar recipe but hopefully haven’t been dedicated to demonic deities.

Homer bought his wife, which implies that she was a slave and might not have had any say in her career choice. He told her to be faithful to him alone, now he had redeemed her.

Hosea prophesied that after the Israelites returned from exile, they would return and come trembling to seek the Lord their God and David their king (Hosea 3:5). Jesus became incarnate and fulfilled the latter half of this prophecy.

Hosea laid out the charges against Israel, many of which can be levelled at the UK today. In our country there is little faithfulness and love and most people don’t acknowledge God. We have cursing, lying, murdering, stealing and adultery. Many of our leaders are divorced and remarried and so are living in adulterous relationships. If a woman is raped, they can get an abortion and so ‘bloodshed follows bloodshed’ (Hosea 4:2) rather than counter-acting evil with love.

We live in a world of ecological collapse with species becoming extinct and fish in the sea dying from pollution. People are continuing to harm the world with their thoughtless behaviour – ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6).

Many people don’t spend time reading the word of God and so reject knowledge of their creator. We have seen the scandal of priests sinning against God and exchanging their Glory for something disgraceful. Even pastors and vicars get divorced and remarried feeding ‘on the sins of my people’, ‘like people, like priests’ (Hosea 4:8-9).

God would ‘punish both (people and priests) for their ways and repay them for their deeds’ (Hosea 4:9). The people had given themselves to prostitution just as many modern people consume endless pornography, beamed directly into their houses through the internet. Many young women, even housewives, are using their bodies as an income stream.

Many of us have worked in secular jobs, doing pointless tasks just for the money. We may very well need it when we have young families to support and massive mortgages. We hire out our bodies to sit in an office where we begrudgingly churn out work while keeping our mind on the money and counting the minutes on the clock. Many of us have given ourselves to both old wine and new to get through the depression of having to prostitute ourselves in the office the following week. The Israelites tried to consult man-made idols for advice rather than praying to God. We might follow a celebrity idol on social media and follow their decrees.

God would not punish the women for their prostitution and adultery because the men were equally at fault. Not only did men use prostitutes – particularly the ones at the shrines to the demonic fertility gods, but they also forced women into prostitution, like Hosea’s wife before he bought her freedom.

God did not want Israel’s stubborn sins to affect the southern kingdom of Judah (Hosea 4:15). God wanted to pasture his people like innocent lambs in a meadow but their rulers loved shameful ways and so they would be swept away in shame.

Hosea pronounced God’s judgement on the people. They were so embedded in their sins that ‘their deeds do not permit them to return to their God’ (Hosea 5:4). These days, there is no sin that can prevent us from experiencing the love of Christ. We just have to repent and renounce of our sins, believe in Christ and ask him into our lives and become baptized.

God was going to pour out his wrath like a flood of water. The Israelites would be carried off, with no-one to rescue them. God would retire from them until they admitted their guilt and, in their misery, sought his face (Hosea 5:15).

Romans 6:15-7:6

If we believe in Jesus, we are set free from sin and become ‘slaves to righteousness’ (Rom.6:18). We are no longer slaves to sin and our sinful addictions. When we are baptized and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, he can help us break free from any sinful habit. He builds us up and makes us holier day by day.

I have been a baptized Christian since I was one but for decades I let my body become enslaved to impurity. I reaped no benefit from my sins, I was on the road to death coaxed gently step-by-step down the path to destruction by oppressing evil spirits. The Holy Spirit lived within me as a little flickering pilot light of faith.

God gives us enough grace to resist any temptation but it was only when I started praying in tongues for extended periods of time, that the Holy Spirit fired up his power within me and burnt off my sinful habits and addictions. I lost the rebellious desire to sin. I was no longer a slave to sin once I handed over control to the righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

The wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.6:23).

We now belong to Christ, serving in the new way of the Spirit (Rom.7:6), so that we might bear fruit for God (Rom.7:4).

Psalm 88:1-9a

I have cried out to God when it felt like my soul was full of trouble and my life was drawing near the grave (Psalm 88:3). He sent an entire new Church to save me and pluck me from lacklustre praise and worship. He is the God who saves me (Ps.88:1).

God sometimes allows the devil to interfere in our lives, which can bring us down into the lowest pit of despair (Ps.88:6). However, when bad things happen it is because God wants good to come out of them. We are refined like gold to make us stronger. We gain character and hope through our trials and tribulations.  

When we are suffering we must turn to God not away from him. Through persisting in prayer, he will turn his ears to our cries (Ps.88:2).

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/freedom-sky-hands-handcuffs-clouds-1886402/

Hosea’s Wife and Children / Paul: Dead to sin, Alive in Christ: July 20th 2021

Hosea 1:1-2:23

Hosea (meaning ‘Salvation’) prophesised shortly after Amos (around 755-710 BC). He prophesied that God would still loyally show love for Israel, in spite of its unfaithful idolatry.

Hosea was told by God to marry an adulterous woman – a prostitute – and have ‘children of unfaithfulness’ because Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord (Hosea 1:2). Their domestic life was ‘a dramatization of the sin and unfaithfulness of Israel’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1122).

Hosea married Gomer and she bore him a son. Hosea was instructed to name the boy Jezreel (meaning ‘God will scatter’ or ‘God sows’). God was going to sow judgment and punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel  (where Jehu slaughtered the relations of Ahab) and put an end to the kingdom of Israel.

Gomer then had two more children. They named one, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah meaning ‘not loved’ / ‘no compassion’ / ‘no mercy’. God had vowed not to show love to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) any longer but he would still show love to the South (Judah).

They had another son and named him Lo-Ammi, meaning ‘not my people’. Via Hosea, God delivered his heart-breaking sentence on Israel ‘you are not my people, and I am not your God!’ (Hos.1:9). God was temporarily breaking the covenant he had given (Ex.3:14) by saying “I am no longer ‘I am’ to you” (MacArthur, 2021, 1124).

However, God would eventually reverse this and reunite the people of Israel and Judah after periods of exile when he would give them new hearts to know him (Jer.24:7).

Israel would be punished harshly but would be eventually restored. God had given them good things: grain, new wine, oil, silver and gold which they had unfaithfully used to worship demonic entities (Hos.2:8). They had chosen demons as their ‘lovers’ and credited them for giving them vines and fig trees, when in fact all good things had come from God. They had forgotten their creator and prostituted themselves.

God withheld rain and made the ground unproductive to demonstrate that the Canaanite deities were not the source of rain and fertility.

We shouldn’t rush around trying to secure food, drink and clothing through our own efforts or by relying on demons. Jesus said to ‘seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt.6:33). God knows we need his provision for our lives.

When God restored Israel after their upcoming exile, he would sign an everlasting formal contract with the people (a betrothal). He would promise them safety, righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness.

When God responded to the people (who God called Jezreel), all creation would also respond and produce new wine and oil. God would show love to the people he had called ‘not loved’ (Lo-Ruhamah) and declare them as his people (reversing Lo-Ammi, ‘not my people’).

The restored Israelites would faithfully declare, ‘You are my God’ (Hos.2:23).

Romans 6:1-14

Baptized believers should be dead to sin. If we find ourselves repeating the same sins, we should give up trying to conquer them by our own strength. We can just hand over the struggle to the Holy Spirit. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will edify us – building us up and making us spiritually strong. Habitual sin will drop off us because we are no longer the slaves of sin through God’s redeeming power.

When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus’ death. In old churches, a section of the floor would be pushed back to reveal a baptism pool like an open water-filled coffin beneath the floor. By being fully immersed in water and emerging back into the light, being given a candle and clothed in a white robe, this signifies how we become new creations through baptism, children of God. We have been raised through the glory of the Father, to live a new life (Rom.6:4).

Some denominations decree that all baptisms should involve full immersion but this is incorrect. It is great to have a full immersion baptism but it is not always practical. Many ‘full immersion’ baptisms are carried out in a domestic bathtub and no-one over five feet tall can be fully immersed in one of those. There always has to be knees sticking out of the water. The typical Anglican / Catholic baptism that just involves sprinkling water on a child’s head is fully valid. As long as some water is used and the person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – then the baptism is valid. Any baptized Christian can baptize someone else in an emergency such as imminent death.

Paul states that if we have been united with Jesus in his death by baptism, ‘we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection’ (Rom.6:5). Our old self is crucified. We are no longer slaves to sin. Through our baptismal death with Jesus we have been set free and live with Christ. The penalty for all our sins has been paid by Jesus. God will now forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them.

Death no longer had mastery over Jesus after his resurrection. We have to count ourselves dead to sin and offer ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness not of wickedness. We do not live under the Jewish law; we live under the grace of God.

Psalm 87:1-7

The Lord loves Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of Judah. It is a major site of pilgrimage for the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a tragedy that there is so much conflict in the region.

It must be glorious to visit the actual locations in the city where biblical events took place (Ps.87:3).

When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is given to us. He sets up home on our hearts and our bodies become his temple. He will make streams of living water flow from our hearts so that God can say to Christians ‘all my fountains are in you’ (Ps.87:7).

To turn a trickle of blessings into a flood, we need to repent and ask Jesus to come fully into our lives as our personal saviour and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle within us, all of his powerful gifts. He will turn our flickering pilot light of faith into a roaring flame. Praise the Lord.  

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosea#/media/File:Hosea.jpg

Amos: The Nation to be Destroyed and then Restored / Paul: Death through Adam, Life Through Christ

Amos 8:1-9:15

God showed Amos a basket of ripe fruit that indicated that ‘the time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer’ (Amos 8:2). The Israelites would suffer for trampling the needy, doing away with the poor and cheating people with dishonest scales. God doesn’t like greed and injustice.

God would send a new kind of famine – not of lack of food or a thirst for water – but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Many people in this country choose to live in a faith famine during their spiritually empty, hedonistic lifestyle. Until something terrible happens to them and they experience illness, addiction or the death of someone close to them they won’t search for the word of the Lord.

God is very angry at the Israelites and is going to ruthlessly hunt down all the sinners throughout the kingdom, no matter where they try to hide. God definitely has a hard edge and we don’t want to annoy him. When we are friends with God we find comfort that he is omnipresent and with us to the ends of the earth. Unrepentant sinners are terrified to find out they cannot escape the clutches of God. ‘I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good’ (Amos 9:4). The relationship between God and evil is a difficult topic. Some pastors gloss over this with a childish ‘God is good’ and ‘devil is bad’ simplicity. However, the devil is not allowed to do anything unless God has permitted him to do so. God is in charge of everything that takes place. The devil is constrained in his actions (or we would all be dead already) and so if something bad is happening in your life, it is because God has loosened the restraints on the devil to allow it to take place. Allowing something to take place or neglecting to stop it when you have the power (and God has all the power) is the same as doing it yourself. So we can safely conclude that God allows both good and evil events, even though he wants us all to live in love and peace. When God allows evil to happen it is because he wants a greater good to come out of it.

We can see the horrors of the holocaust in Amos 9:2-4 with the Jews driven into exile and slayed by the sword. Wherever they hid, the Jewish people were hunted down and slayed. It is a terrifying prophecy.

God was going to shake Israel as grain is shaken in a sieve to remove the rubbish. All the complacent sinners would be sifted out to die by the sword.  

Eventually, God would restore Israel and bring his exiled people back – as he demonstrated in 1948. The Israelis rebuilt cities, planted vineyards and ate their own fruit (Amos 9:14).

Shepherds play a key role in the history of Israel. Amos, a shepherd turned prophet, predicted exile followed by restoration. Jeremiah prophesied that the bad shepherds of the Israelites would be punished and that God himself would gather the remnant of his flock from exile. God would place good shepherds over them to tend them until the ultimate good shepherd, Jesus, would be born (Jer.23:5). As soon as baby Jesus had been born, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were called by the angels to pay homage to the king of all shepherds.  

No matter how hostile their neighbours are, aggression against Israel will always be pointless as God has replanted his holy people in their own land, that he had given them ‘never again to be uprooted’ (Amos 9:15).

Romans 5:12-21

Sin entered the world through one man, Adam and we all retain part of his damaged nature, a tendency to choose sin. Death came through sin and reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, when the law was given. We were all condemned by the single sin of Adam but we have been redeemed by Jesus, the new Adam.

God’s gift of grace came after millions of sins and brought justification (Romans 5:16). Death was able to spread through the whole human race by Adam’s sin, but Jesus’ death gives us abundant life through God’s endless provision of grace and gift of righteousness. We are no longer guilty and condemned in God’s sight once we are baptized and believe in Jesus. Through God’s priceless gift of grace, he has made us his adopted children, co-heirs with his son and he remains pleased with us.

The people of the world are no longer condemned to death as we were due to Adam’s sin. Our justification by the blood of Jesus has brought eternal life to all people through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Proverbs 17:15-24

God detests injustice (Prov.17:15). We should never accept bribes to pervert the course of justice (Prov.17:23).

We won’t prosper if we have perverse hearts and deceitful tongues (Prov.17:20). After becoming baptized, we need to ask the Holy Spirit living within us to sanctify us, to day-by-day gradually drive the perversity out of our hearts.

True friends are exceedingly precious and may be more help in adversity than many members of our family. True friends can be rare and often we can only count our married partner as a true friend.  Men often have acquaintances rather than ‘friends’. They share a hobby or pastime together and this might just be football or drinking. It is very rare to have a friendship like David had with Saul’s son, Jonathan. They were friends that loved at all times (Prov.17:17). David was a man after God’s own heart and so would have avoided picking quarrels with his friend (Prov.17:19).    

Foolish people do not bring joy to their parents and they waste money. They have no desire to get wisdom. We should pray the Holy Spirit each day to receive wisdom and to esteem it more than gold. ‘A discerning man keeps wisdom in view’ (Prov.17:24).

Being cheerful makes us healthy. If our spirit is crushed, an evil spirit of trauma can latch onto us and prolong our grief. Evil spirits want us to destroy ourselves and those around us. We need to attend a Spirit-filled church to praise and worship God and to receive prayer for inner healing.

Amos: Woe to the complacent / Paul: Peace and Joy: July 18th 2021

Amos 6:1-7:17

Woe to those who are complacent! (Amos 6:1). Many people feel complacent and secure these days and see no point in worshipping the One True God, creator of heaven and earth. They lounge on couches, enjoy their barbeques, hum along to secular music, use the finest lotions and drink like fish but do not grieve over the state of our country or God’s people; how we kill over 200,000 of our unborn children each year and churches close due to selfish disinterest. They will be among ‘the first to go into exile’ (Amos 6:7). Their feasting and lounging will end at the day of judgement.

God hates false pride. People think they have achieved success in their lives without any help from God. They brag and network with other narcissists about their careers on social media. People live in big houses and think they are secure yet we live behind panes of glass through which anyone armed with the smallest rock could enter. Pride comes before a dramatic fall. We need to praise and thank God every day for our blessings.

We are like wonky walls badly constructed by cowboy builders. I was built on a strong sold foundation having been baptised at the age of one. However, my family were not strong believers and, as I grew, I went askew. When I assessed the constructed wall of my life, it contained twisted and warped bricks that had thrown my life off-plumb. I see teenagers now at church who have thrived under strong Christian parents who are beautifully constructed beacons of light.

The Lord showed Amos that Israel had not been built to his plumbline. The country was warped, twisted and shoddy in its faith and morals. God would destroy its pagan worship sites and send armed raiders to plunder its cities and exile its people.

Amaziah, the priest of the idol-worship shrine at Bethel, complained to King Jeroboam II about Amos. Amaziah told Amos to go back to Judah. Amos explained that it hadn’t been his idea to be a prophet. God had taken him from herding sheep and looking after sycamores and told him to prophesy to Israel (Amos 7:15) that it would go into exile.

Amos had an even worse personal prophecy for the corrupt priest (Amos 17:17).

Amaziah recognised Amos as a ‘seer’ (Amos 17:12) but did not want to listen to his truthful bad news. Many people today try to blot out hearing the gospel and avoid priests as they know they would convict their self-centred lifestyle. However, God’s soldiers will not go away as we have been commanded to share the word of God. We need to all stop hiding from the truth and listen. Then God can work within us and heal us. God can change his mind about destroying our country and our people if we repent and turn to him. He is always calling us home to him.

Romans 4:16-5:11

In the sight of God, Abraham is the father of us all. Abraham has been made the father of many nations. Abraham believed through faith that he could still be a father even though ‘his body was as good as dead’ (Rom.4:19).

God credits us with righteousness – as he did for Abraham – when ‘we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (Rom.4:24). Jesus was ‘delivered over to death’ as a ransom payment for our sins and was ‘raised to life for our justification’ so we become innocent in God’s eyes as if we were a freshly baptized child (Rom.4:25). We become clothed in a spotless white robe as if we had never sinned.

Having been justified by God’s grace through faith, we are now at peace with God (Rom.5:1). We were previously at war, but peace has come through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Christians we should rejoice in our sufferings because out of them we gain perseverance, character and hope. God has given us the Holy Spirit, who has poured God’s love into our hearts.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8). He saw the potential in us if love were to be poured into our hearts and we were made right with God.

We were reconciled to God through Jesus’ death. But Jesus came back to life. He walks with us, encourages us, intercedes for us and along with the Father sends us the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us. As we are now God’s adopted children, we can rejoice in God. Jesus bore all of God’s wrath on the cross for us and there is now no wrath left for believers (MacArthur, 2021, 1551).

Psalm 86:11-17

If we have a divided heart, we should pray to God to make it whole, so that we will be in awe of the Lord. Then we can praise God with all our heart (Ps.86:12).

The Holy Spirit teaches us the way of God, so that we can walk in the truth (Ps.86:11).  

Jesus died on the cross in order to deliver us from the depths of the grave (Ps.86:13). After he died, he descended into hell and rescued Adam and Eve out of his great love for them. He was their creator and their redeemer, yet was also one of their descendants.

God sent his son to die for us because He is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Ps.86:15). He turned to us and had mercy on us.

When I have been laid low and attacked by oppressive thoughts or insolent people, God has always shown me the way out. He has placed people in the right place to help me and curated magazine and newspaper articles to guide me. He continues to be my helper and my comforter (Ps.86:17).

Image: Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Amos: The Cows of Bashan / Paul: Righteousness through Faith: 16th July 2021

Amos 3:1-4:13

God chose the Israelites, out of all the people on the earth, to be his holy people Their favoured status did not exempt them from punishment. They had betrayed him so must face righteous justice and answer for their sins (Amos 3:2). I have heard some pastors say that God does not bring hardship, that is the work of the devil. However, the devil can do nothing without the permission of God: ‘When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it?’ (Amos 3:6).

Amos predicted that an enemy would overrun the land (Amos 3:11). The Assyrian exiled the Israelites in 722 BC. Just a small remnant was saved – like a piece of a sheep’s ear prised from the mouth of a lion. Amos was called to testify that God would destroy the altar at Bethel where the Israelites had worshipped their golden calf idol. Their fancy houses and mansions would be destroyed.

I rather like the expression ‘you cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1) referring to the women of Samaria living it up, oppressing the poor and needy and ordering their husbands to serve them in their luxurious mansions. Bashan was a prosperous fertile region with lush pastures. It reminds me of how people are desperate to go on foreign holidays at the moment to lounge by the pool and sip cocktails while coronavirus cases are surging and hospital services are starting to become strained again.

Amos criticised the Israelites’ religious practices with withering sarcasm. Amos 4:4 is like us saying: ‘Go to church and sin, go to the cathedral and sin yet more’. Their religion had become meaningless rituals about which they bragged to their neighbours. They had turned two of their most important holy sites, Bethel and Gilgal, into centres for idol worship. Bethel was where God had promised Jacob he would bless all the peoples on earth through him and his offspring (Gen.28:14). The Israelites had made a fresh start with God at Gilgal – after forty years in the wilderness – by circumcising themselves prior to the assault on Jericho (Josh.5:1-9).   

The Lord had tried many strategies to get the Israelites to return to him: from starvation to drought, pestilence, plague, war and violent insurrections, yet they still would not turn to him. They made a show of going to their heathen places of worship and bragging about their offerings but their hearts were far from God.    

I know God has snatched me from the fire on more than one occasion. I was the burning stick that was miraculously saved from a near certain fate (Amos 4:11).

The Lord God Almighty was preparing to unleash his wrath on his people and so they should prepare to meet their maker (Amos 4:12).

Romans 3:9-31

We are all the same under the skin no matter what race or religion we are (Rom.3:9).

None of us can be righteous in the sight of God by our own efforts. We are made righteous by repenting of our sins and believing in God’s son, Jesus Christ. Laws and regulations just make us aware of our shortcomings in complying with them – and our sin.

Most humans look after their own interests rather than seek God. It is only when the Holy Spirit acts on our hearts that we start to search for God.

Rom.3:12-18 is still applicable to us today. We live in a world of cursing and bitterness. Our feet are swift to shed blood. Many people live in ruin and misery. Many of us have no fear of God and have tongues that practise deceit as we speak foul, poisonous words revealing the decay of our hearts. We do not live in a peaceful world. There is endless conflict between nations over power, territory and resources.   

Some companies maintain expensive quality systems with procedures on how work should be carried out. Periodically, auditors are sent around the company to check how employees are complying with these rules and regulations. No-one ever achieves 100% in these audits. The auditors always find some nit-picking error even if they have to fabricate one to justify their jobs. Cunning employees leave a minor task undone to distract an auditor from digging deeper into more major failings. Rather than ensure the quality of the product, an over-complicated quality system just makes everyone a failure.

Many people today have mouths full of cursing and bitterness (Rom.3:14) and have no fear of God (Rom.3:18). Everyone has God’s law written on their hearts and so we have no excuse for not knowing him. We have to keep churches thriving as welcoming places of light, so that when the Holy Spirit convicts an individual of their sins, they have somewhere to go to teach them the gospel.

Christians are made righteous outside of the Jewish law. The law and the prophets testified that this would eventually happen. ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. As I am using the NIV Bible translation, we miss out on the classic word ‘propitiation’, which the NIV translates as ‘a sacrifice of atonement’. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘propitiation’ is crucial to the significance of Christ’s sacrifice with the word carrying the idea of appeasement or satisfaction ‘in this case Christ’s violent death satisfied the offended holiness and wrath of God against those for whom Christ died (Rom.3:25).

The wrath of God was satisfied’ as in the song ‘In Christ alone’.

Paul wrote that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23). However, Jesus didn’t sin until he became sin as he died on the cross. His mother, Mary, was sinless from the time of her conception but, as this revelation wouldn’t be officially recognised for another 1,800 years, we can let Paul off.  Jesus could not have come from a sinful egg or undergo his gestation in a sinner’s womb.

God justifies us freely and his justification is an unearned, pure gift from him (grace) through faith in the blood of Jesus that was sacrificed for our redemption (Rom. 3:24-25).

God had to sacrifice his son because of heavenly justice. When we lived in sin, we were at war with God. Someone had to pay the price for our unpunished sin and so God decided to do it himself because he loves us. Jesus paid the ‘ransom price’, the debt, that the courts of heaven had set out for our sin to be redeemed (Mark 10:45). By Jesus’ sacrificial death we were set free to be friends with God, restored back to a living relationship with our loving Father.  

Jesus was the only perfect man, the perfect sacrifice who could reverse the curse of original sin that Adam’s rebellion had blighted us with. ‘We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the holy body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10).

We are justified by our faith in Jesus and how does faith come? Faith comes by hearing the gospel message, listening to and understanding about Jesus in the Word of God! (Rom.10:17).

Psalm 85:8-13

God’s salvation is near to us when we respect his awesome power, righteousness and might (Ps.85:9).

When we are made righteous with God through our faith in Jesus we experience God’s love and faithfulness and eternal peace (Ps.85:18).

As faithfulness springs forth from the Christians on earth, righteousness comes down to us from heaven (Ps.85:11).

When we stop rebelling and invite Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, the Lord will indeed give us what is good (Ps.85:12).

We may still face painful trials but they will be good for us, to train us and refine us like gold so that we can yield a precious harvest.

Once we are made righteous with God through faith, our heart is prepared for the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us (Ps.85:13).

Image: Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Jonah Flees before Preaching to the Ninevites / God’s Righteous Judgement: 14th July 2021

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Today, we have the entire entertaining book of Jonah. This feels like light relief after 2 Kings even if God was threatening to unleash his full wrath on a mighty Gentile city.

God told Jonah (meaning ‘dove’) to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to its people on account of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was notorious for its cruelty, idol worship and prostitution.

MacArthur (2021, 1161) notes that a ‘unverifiable Jewish tradition says Jonah was the son of the woman of Zarephath whom Elijah had raised from the dead’ (1 Kings 17:22-24).  

The wickedness of the city had ‘come up before’ God. This reminds me of the angel saying to Cornelius: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This implies there is a threshold quantity of good deeds or wickedness that alerts God to a person or place and prompts him to intervene directly.

Jonah promptly ran away, which is seriously underestimating the reach of God. There is nowhere in the heavens or on earth where we can escape from God’s presence. We might alternatively try to escape from God by using mind-bending drugs or alcohol but He will always keep calling us to Him. Perhaps Jonah thought that God was confined to the temple in Jerusalem. He was wrong.

Jonah embarked on a ship to Tarshish and so God sent a violent storm. Each of the sailors cried out ‘to his own god’ in vain to save the ship from breaking up. While the storm raged, Jonah was fast asleep. Jesus slept through a storm at sea due to his faith in God (Mark 4:38). Jonah shows that the wicked can mimic the actions of Jesus. We need discernment to see if an action is good or evil.

The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for the calamity and pinpointed Jonah. The Old Testament has several stories that show that ‘casting lots’ can give a correct answer such as Lev.16:8 and Num.26:55. When humans cast lots on the instruction of God, he intervenes to show his divine will and purpose.

The sailors had previously been told that Jonah was ‘running away from God’ but they became terrified when Jonah told them that his God had made the sea and the land. Jonah admitted his guilt and told them to throw him overboard. Jonah had put other lives at risk by trying to hide from God as can we if we try to hide by means of drugs, crime or alcohol. There is no such thing as a private sin. All sins affect other people.

The sailors were reluctant to do this but rowing was ineffective and the sea grew even wilder. They threw Jonah overboard and the sea became calm. This converted the sailors who feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice and made vows to him. Through their frightening ordeal, they had discovered the one living God with power over creation.

God will rescue us from anything if He has an unfulfilled purpose for our life. Jonah was swallowed by a ‘great fish’ and had to live in the fish for three days and three nights – the same period of time that Jesus’s body was in the grave, prior to his glorious resurrection. It was interesting to see that a man survived being briefly swallowed by a whale a few weeks ago but the Bible does not use the Hebrew word for whale, it definitely states fish. Scientists have identified teeth of a giant extinct shark (Otodus megalodon) which appears to be extinct now. It was an enormous relative of the great white. Maybe God created this enormous shark for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah whole. https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/man-reveals-what-it-was-like-to-survive-being-swallowed-by-a-humpback-whale/news-story/778d2566919e1ef279bcc03a1f21462d

While inside the fish for three days, Jonah prayed in distress and God answered! Being hurled into the sea, swirled by the currents, surrounded by the deep and engulfed by the water had made Jonah remember and turn to his creator. God had saved Jonah from drowning when his life ‘was ebbing away’ (Jonah 2:7). Jonah acknowledged that ‘salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs’ (Jonah 2:8).

At the Lord’s command, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Being a prophet isn’t a glamorous affair. Maybe he washed himself in the sea before staggering into the city, but there is a legend that the acid in the fish’s stomach had dramatically bleached his clothes, skin and hair.

As the Ninevites worshipped both the fish goddess, Nanshe, and Dagon, who was depicted as half man half fish, being vomited onto the shore by a giant fish was quite an entrance. God does have a great sense of humour.

Now that Jonah was obedient, God told him again to go to the vast city of Nineveh. On the very first day he entered the city, the Ninevites listened to his proclamation of doom and responded. They declared a fast and all put on sackcloth. They must have been aware of their own depravity and sin and it took just one person (vomited from a giant fish) to push them into repentance. Even the king humbled himself and issued a proclamation to fast, wear sackcloth and pray.

Unlike the Ninevites, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time did not repent even when faced with the Son of God (Matt.12:41). Jesus denounced the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting in sackcloth and ashes after witnessing his signs and wonders (Matt.11:21).

God heard the prayers of the Ninevites. He saw that they had turned from their evil ways and relented from destroying them.

God can change his mind on occasions.

Jonah dared to be angry at God’s compassion. He didn’t consider that his journey had been worthwhile even though his arrival had catalysed the Ninevites to change heart. He had wanted the pagan Ninevites to suffer God’s wrath in punishment for their grievous sins. He had been rescued by God but didn’t want tens of thousands of Gentiles to experience the same mercy.

God made a vine grow over Jonah’s head which pleased him as it shaded his head. God then withered it with the help of a worm and scorched Jonah with an east wind, which infuriated him.

Throughout the book of Jonah, God shows himself to be the master of all creation using a storm on the sea, a giant fish, a vine, wind and a worm to get his points across. The Ninevites had been softened up to repent by recently enduring two plagues and a solar eclipse (MacArthur, 2021, 1161).   

God pointed out that he had a right to be concerned about the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh who ‘cannot tell their right hand from the left’ (Jonah 4:10-11). Does this refer to actual children or were all the adults in Nineveh like children in God’s eyes? Jonah had been concerned about a vine, which he hadn’t even planted. God cares for all of us and sent Jesus both to the Jews and the Gentiles to gather us like lost sheep, so we won’t be destroyed.

We need to urgently respond to the Word of God as the sinners of Nineveh did. Gods’ kindness and forbearance should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Jesus died for us when we were still sinners. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. Imagine their celebrations when the entire city of Nineveh was saved (Luke 15:10).

When Jesus returns, the Jews will fulfil their Jonah-esque mission. They will finally preach to everyone to repent. God commissioned the Jews and called on them to spread the Gospel. He has miraculously saved them on numerous occasions despite them trying to evade and disobey him. Salvation will come from them in the end.

Romans 2:1-16

We must not be hypocrites and the easiest way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid judging others. Let us share the Word of God and we all can judge ourselves against it.

When we pass judgement on others, we often find we will be guilty of doing the same things.   

Many of us have carried on with sinful secular lives with little regard to God, showing our contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will try to crash into our lives and convict us of our sins. We will then realise how blessed we have been to get away with our dreadful behaviour that warrants death. When we realise God’s kindness and forbearance at sparing our sinful lives, it leads us to repentance.

We need to repent of our stubbornness and unrepentance, which will have stored up wrath against us.

To gain eternal life, we need to ‘persist in doing good, seeking glory, honour and immortality’ (Romans 2:7). If we are self-seeking, reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. The Mother Church teaches that to stand a change of being granted eternal life, we must persist in resisting grave sin right to the end of our lives. It is a sin of presumption to judge ourselves and conclude we are saved.  Other denominations teach that once we have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, we are saved forever. Our good deeds are the evidence of our salvation and not the basis for it. However, Paul confirms that we must persist in doing good. We can’t rest on our laurels. There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil and that includes ‘born-again’ ‘saved’ Christians for ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Rom.2:11).

We all have God’s law written on our own hearts, which is why people in the furthest reaches of the world, who have never heard of Jesus, can be saved as long as they follow a good life. The Mother Church teaches that the unreached who would have desired baptism if anyone had told them about it can be saved if they live virtuous lives. Jesus achieved victory on the cross and we can only get to the father through him. I watched a gentleman give a testimony on Sid Roth’s ‘Only Supernatural’ program. He had received a vision of the queue to get into heaven. Jesus asked each person at the gates ‘Did you learn to love?’ That was the requirement to get through him to reach the father.

‘God will judge men’s secret thoughts through Jesus Christ’ (Rom.2.16).

Psalm 86:1-7

God will restore us when we turn to Jesus and believe in him. The Holy Spirit will come into us when we are baptized and revive us.

Jesus’ precious blood did not just cover our sins, it washed them away so that God forgave our iniquities.

When we are baptized, God removes our transgressions from us ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps.103:12).

After I went to my first confession, I could no longer remember my post-baptism sins. God delighted in showing me mercy and compassion.  I had a vision that my sins were chained down in deep water below opaque ice.

God had hurled all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).   

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah#/media/File:Pieter_Lastman_-Jonah_and_the_Whale-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

The Fall of Jerusalem / God’s Wrath against Mankind: July 13th 2021

2 Kings 24:8-25:30

King Jehoiachin succeeded his father, Jehoiakim. The people of Judah seemed to have run out of inspiration for first names at this stage but they all have meanings. Jehoiachin Is Hebrew for ‘The Lord Establishes’ which is ironic considering what is going to happen to him.    

This new king only reigned for 3 months and all of that was bad. The king of Babylon’s army advanced on Jerusalem and besieged it. The formidable Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, actually came to watch the siege. The leaders of Judah had no choice but to surrender the city to him.

Nebuchadnezzar removed all the remaining treasures from the temple and the royal palace. He carried into exile virtually everyone from Jerusalem, including the local army, leaving just the poorest people behind who would now be ruled by Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah. Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Zedekiah, king of Judah.

Zedekiah did not turn to God and unwisely rebelled against Babylon. He must have recruited a new army from the land of Judah as the Babylonians had to lay siege to the city again. Eventually, the famine within the city walls was so bad that the army within Jerusalem broke out through their own walls and fled. Zedekiah was captured and terribly punished.

Jerusalem would now be destroyed. The commander of the Babylonian imperial guard set fire to every building, including the temple and the royal palace, the walls of the city were broken down and everyone was taken into exile apart from the very poorest people who were to work the vineyards and fields.

The Babylonians destroyed the magnificent bronze articles that Solomon had commissioned for the temple. All the top Jerusalem officials, including the chief priest, were executed.

Judah went into captivity, away from her land – following the example of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) who has been exiled by the Assyrians a couple of centuries before.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to supervise the remnant of people left in Judah. He tried to get the people to settle down and serve the king but he was assassinated, which caused all the people people to flee to Egypt.

The former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was released from prison after thirty-seven years by a new Babylonian king, Evil-Merodach, and treated kindly for the rest of his life.  

These stories highlight the problems that arise from disobedience. If the Judean kings had always followed God, their nation may have been left in its own territory. If Zedekiah had been loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the first temple may still be intact today and what a magnificent sight it would be. However, God had to serve justice on those who had abandoned and ignored him. He used foreign nations to bring about his retribution against both Israel and Judah. However, there is always hope of rebirth and restoration.

The clock was now ticking until His people would be returned to their homeland.

Romans 1:18-32

We can clearly see the presence of God in the beauty of our created world. Yet so many people think that the world and the creatures that populate it made themselves. Paul said these people are without excuse (Rom.1:20). Everyone knows God in their hearts but people choose to suppress their innate knowledge of God and decide not to glorify or give thanks to Him. Their foolish hearts become darkened (Rom.1:21) and they choose to remain in sin.

Just as Solomon did, the wise become fools and start to worship man-made images. Many people today serve created things rather than the Creator. We work in a secular job just to pay for the car that is only required to get us to work. We go to work to pay for a larger house or a holiday, when we wouldn’t need an expensive holiday if we didn’t work (1 Rom.1:25). A day in a beautiful house of worship would regenerate us more than two weeks boozing in the sun.

God can show his wrath by abandoning us. If we reject him, he will reject us and allow us to follow our sinful desires. However, we reap what we sow and there will be consequences both now (such as divorce, murder, sexually transmitted diseases) and in eternity, for our immoral actions. Even women of the world have succumbed to sin. MacArthur (2021, 1545) notes that in most cultures women are the last to be affected by moral collapse.

If we do not spend time studying the word of God, our minds will become warped and full of wickedness (1 Rom.1:29-31).

Many people are promoted in secular workplaces for being greedy, deceitful, envious, malicious, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, faithless, heartless and ruthless. Many modern companies celebrate these behaviours particularly if they maximise profit (Rom.1:32). These people have ‘debased’ minds that are impure and worthless.

In summary, every single person in the world knows that God exists in their heart. There is no excuse for ignoring him and not giving him thanks. People choose to ignore God so that they can carry out depraved sin and God has abandoned them to let them do this. People rationalise to try to prove to themselves and others that there is no God but by doing this they prove their own utter foolishness. They approve of others who, like them, behave in Godless ways. Birds of a feather flock together.

I often wonder why the Mother Church seems to carry out little evangelisation and this passage seems to explain why. People already know all about God in their own hearts, they just suppress it and choose a depraved lifestyle instead. The church waits for people to become convicted of their own sin, acknowledge the terrible consequences they have reaped, repent of their mistakes and come looking for God. However, I think it is still useful to preach the gospel, to prompt people to listen to the little voice inside of them that is calling them home,

Psalm 84:8-12

I would rather be an unpaid assistant in a thriving church than a chief executive in an immoral company (Ps.84:10).

Our God is our sun and our shield. He bestows favour and honour and defends us from evil.

We are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

He will withhold no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Ps.84:11). So, if we lack anything, it is either not good for us or, before we will receive it, we need to review our lives and remove anything that is not blameless, by repenting and renouncing our wrong behaviour.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Josiah Cleanses Judah and Renews the Covenant / Paul writes to the Romans: July 12th 2021

2 Kings 23:1-24:7

Josiah, the King of Judah, read the newly rediscovered Book of the Law to all the people of Judah. He renewed the covenant with the Lord and all the people pledged themselves to it (2 Kings 23:3).

Josiah ordered the priests to remove all the pagan articles from the temple. They were burned outside Jerusalem. He ‘did away’ with the pagan priests. He desecrated the high places and broke down the shrines and thoroughly purged the country of other heathen worship sites. Chapter 23 is a comprehensive list of all the altars and shrines that the kings of Israel had built to vile and detestable deities. King Solomon had started the rot by building high places on the ‘Hill of Corruption’ even though he was supposedly the wisest man ever (2 Kings 23:13).

Josiah also cleaned up Samaria and Bethel in the north of the country while the people of this region had been deported to Assyria (2 Kings 23:19). The king then gave the order to all the people to celebrate the Passover, as it was written in the rediscovered Book of the Covenant. The Israelites had not celebrated Passover since the time of the Judges.

Josiah turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength – as we should do (2 Kings 23:25).

However, it was too late to turn the Lord away from his fierce anger. God was planning to remove Judah from his presence, just as he had done to Israel. He would reject His city and His temple (2 Kings 23:27).  However, at least Josiah died with a clean conscience. He had tried to make his people right with God, but we know from the Book of Romans that righteousness can never be earned by human actions.

Josiah was killed in a skirmish with the Egyptian army.

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, was anointed king and managed to do evil in the eyes of the Lord even though he only reigned for three months. Pharoah Neco, who had killed Josiah, his father, put Jehoahaz in chains and deported him to Egypt. He appointed another one of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim / Jehoiakim, as king and demanded a hefty levy of gold and silver which Jehoiakim exacted as tax from the people of the land.

Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years and carried out evil deeds. Josiah’s sons had obviously learnt nothing from their relatively righteous father. It was now time for the end of Judah. The country was invaded by the Babylonians. Jehoiakim became the vassal of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, for three years and then unwisely rebelled. The Lord sent raiders to destroy Judah. The earlier reign of the evil King Manasseh had sealed Judah’s fate and even the reforms of Josiah had been insufficient to assuage God’s wrath. Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood and, at this time, the Lord was not willing to forgive his evil deeds (2 Kings 24:4).

The king of Babylon took over the whole of the country (2 Kings 24:7).

Romans 1:1-17

Today, we start Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 56 towards the end of his third missionary journey as he was preparing to visit Jerusalem. The letter was eventually delivered by Phoebe to the Roman believers, some of whom may have been converted on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem before eventually settling in Rome.

Romans isn’t an easy read and so we will take it slowly. MacArthur describes it as the ‘preeminent doctrinal work in the New Testament’. One of its main themes is that we can’t buy our way into heaven with our good behaviour – eternal life is an unearned gift of love (grace) from God. God justifies us guilty, condemned sinners through our faith in Christ. We were made righteous in God’s eyes through the shedding of Jesus’ perfect blood when he died for us on the cross.

Paul described himself as a (willing) servant of Jesus set apart for the gospel (the good news) of God. Paul was a servant out of love and respect for his master. God had long promised us this good news throughout the holy Old Testament scriptures. Paul regarded himself as an ‘apostle’ – one who is sent. Jesus had personally commissioned him and started him on his personal mission than all the other apostles.

Jesus – in his human nature was a descendant of David. There are two genealogies in the gospels. The one in Luke 3:23 was actually the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The version in Matthew is his father Joseph’s genealogy. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘the royal line is passed through Jesus’ legal father, and his physical descent from David is established by Mary’s lineage’. So Jesus was not descended from Solomon – who went rogue. Jesus was descended from David’s third child with Bathsheba, Nathan an older brother of Solomon. Jesus was both fully human (from Mary) and fully God (from the Holy Spirit) – so he could both die in our place and be a high priest who can relate to humankind.

https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/library/bqa/id/184/why-does-jesus-have-two-different-genealogies-matthew-11-16-luke-323-38.htm

It was Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4). When we are baptized, the same Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, comes to live in us so that He can also raise us to eternal life.

We, like all the Gentiles, are called to the obedience that comes through faith. Paul wanted to come to Rome so that he and the Roman Christians could be ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (Romans 1:12). We all learn and benefit from different Christian communities coming together to worship, work, teaching and relaxation.

Paul was never ashamed of the gospel: ‘It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:16). The gospel revealed that we can be made righteous with God through our faith in his son, Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. This is an undeserved gift that we cannot earn. It is beyond price.

Psalm 84:1-7

As Christians, we know that we are not yet in our ‘forever home’. We are alien visitors to this worldly planet, a completely new species and never quite feel at home. We long to see the living God in his dwelling-place (Ps.84:1). We have an unquenched spiritual hunger for God.

Blessed are the saints who have already made it to heaven and are waiting to intercede on our behalf. They are for ever praising God (Ps.84:4).

When we ask Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, we are starting on our pilgrimage back home to God. We will go from strength to strength because our strength is in Jesus, the Creator of the world. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is forever within the baptized. He refreshes us and enkindles his fire within us so we can be renewed and burst forth with power.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/st-paul-saint-iconography-painting-2176669/

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